Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Virtue of Thrift: Target as the new Personal Trainer

Last night my son was doing a homework assignment that required a list of ten virtues. He had nine--all the usual ones including self-control, perseverance, loyalty, honesty--but was stuck for the last. He asked me, and within a tenth-of-a-second I replied, "thrift."

He asked for a definition, and off the top of my head, I said conservation and management of resources so as to avoid waste. I don't know if that's even close, but that's the way I live. I scrape the last smidgen of peanut butter out of the jar, reuse tin foil three times at least, and plan the meals I serve around what's on sale. Not much different from most Americans, probably. Well, all right, my friends do occasionally call me "cheap."

But today, with our morning newspaper came an advertising supplement for Target. I already shop there, though toiletries come from Dollar Tree, and I only buy their clothes for my kids when they come on sale (I wear their "hand-me-ups"). Target, however, is trying to position itself as the substitute for all the services and pleasures that before the downturn, cost more somewhere else. On the front of the supplement is a smiling red-headed boy serving breakfast in bed to, assumedly, his parents-- "the new room service," with a faux newspaper on the tray, headlined "Stocks down."

We're then taken through a series of vignettes that hawk accoutrements for "the new commute" (bicycle, $80, helmet $15, messenger bag $16); "the new renovation" (toss pillows, $18 apiece, fabric refresher spray $4.50, photo frames, $6); "the new family game day" ("Connect 4" game, $15, pack of batteries, $9.79); "the new personal trainer" (work out tank top $19, hand weights $6 each); "the new spa trip" (mascara $6.39, terry robe $20, Olay moisturizer $22); the new restaurant (salmon fillets $8.99/24 oz, basic dinner plates $5/ea, 200 Bounty napkins $2.50); "the new coffee spot" (Mr. Coffee $20, sandwich cookies $1.89, dishwasher liquid $4); "the new barber shop" (hair clippers $15, bath towels $5); and "the new water adventure" (toddler swimsuit $10, sunscreen $5.24, cheese snacks $1.39).

Now, all these "new" experiences aren't new to me and probably most others, but I must say, there are a few really good deals listed in that list (Target? Need a spokesperson?), and a few things old cheapo me wouldn't ever pay for. My "new personal trainer" (who I never had) knows I work out in a cast-off t-shirt (why sweat in a $19 tank top?) and the moisturizer for my "new spa trip" is hotel mini-sized giveaways from my husband's business travels.

And that's my point--Americans know the value and the virtue of thrift already. That's how Target stays profitable. Still, it is rather clever for them to hook new customers by suggesting they're the reasonable replacement for upscale, expensive habits. This is the capitalist system at work, the real stimulus our economy needs, rather than a thousand pages of "pork and earmarks" that must be paid for through extraction from already-smarting taxpayers under penalty of imprisonment, that will probably curse future generations as the national debt.


  1. While we love Target, one warning about its "thriftiness" - it's often not. Firstly, not every Target charges the same prices. The one closer to us that is in a densely populated area by a mall - more expensive. The one you need a car to get to (about 10 minutes away) - much cheaper.

    Second, Target is cheap for many products - and really not so cheap for many others. Some of that is worthwhile for the convenience aspect, but be careful when shopping there and don't go in with the assumption that they're on the cheap end of even the things you do need.

    But we still <3 Target. :)

  2. There is a Target about 150 yards from our house. It has saved us many times when we are in desperate need for diapers or baby food. We save money there by buying their store brand stuff sometimes.

  3. I'm sure you use the upscale faux French pronounciation: tar-JAY.

    It's my preferred place to shop as well. I can get the girls cute, modest, on trend, and sturdy clothes there.

    Tell D that another term is 'parsimonious.' That's his SAT prep for today.

    And, I'm with Ezzie: 1 cart = $100 no matter what size the cart.

  4. Ez: you're right, one must know what's "cheap" for any given item. We only have one Target nearby and so can't often compare with others, but I tend to see the same prices when I do.

    Cam: yes, their store brand on staple items is usually pretty good.

    Ruth Anne: Yes, it's tar-GJHAY, with a wink. I'd say the bulk of my hand-me-ups come from there, especially shoes. And you're on tar-GJHAY about my son and the SAT, which is coming up in a week; he NEEDS the prep! And, I call Target the "100-Dollar Store" (Costco is the $200-Store) cuz you can't just run in to scope their dollar-bins!

  5. Fabric refresher spray=YUCK!!!!